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What is Alcohol Use Disorder and How Does it Affect Child Custody Cases?


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease that affects millions of people around the world. It is characterized by uncontrolled drinking that interferes with a person's health, work, and relationships. AUD can have a devastating impact on families, and it is often a factor in family law cases and in many situations is the catalyst that led to the parents separating or ending their relationship. In family law cases, AUD can be used as evidence of parental unfitness. If a parent is found to have AUD, the court may decide that the parent is not able to provide a safe and healthy environment for their children or act in their best interests. This could result in the parent losing custody of their children.

AUD can also be used as evidence of domestic violence. If a parent with AUD is abusive towards their partner or children, the court may take this into account when making decisions about child custody and visitation.

If you are involved in a family law case and you have AUD, it is important to seek help. There are many resources available to help people with AUD recover and rebuild their lives. With treatment, it is possible to overcome AUD and regain custody of your children.

Here are some tips for parents with AUD who are going through a family law case:

  • Be honest with your lawyer about your AUD. Your lawyer can help you to understand the impact of your AUD on your case and to develop a strategy to address it.
  • Seek treatment for your AUD. Treatment can help you to recover from your AUD and to become a more stable and healthy parent.
  • Cooperate with the court. The court is more likely to be lenient with you if you are taking steps to address your AUD.
  • Be patient. It takes time to recover from AUD and to rebuild your life. Be patient with yourself and with the court process.

If you are struggling with AUD, there are many resources available to help you. You can find information and support online, or you can talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. With help, you can overcome AUD and rebuild your life.

Alcohol Use Disorder is an Illness

The recognition of Alcohol Use Disorder as an illness does not diminish its destructive impact on the marriages and family relationships of those living with the condition. According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, twenty-eight million people aged twelve and over have AUD.

When a party in Family Court has AUD, the court and the attorneys face a dilemma: protecting the spouse and children from the harmful effects of the illness while also respecting the ill parent's right to enjoy a frequent, continuous, and meaningful relationship with their children which the courts will presume is in the best interests of the children. 

What are the solutions?

Until recently, Family Courts routinely ordered the supervision of a noncustodial parent’s visitation to shield children from alcohol misuse before or during visits. While effective, having an unrelated stranger present during visits can create an unnatural distance between the noncustodial parent and child and adds a substantial cost to the process. Courts have also received complaints about the last-minute rescheduling of visits caused by social workers' calendar changes, which are often beyond a parent’s control. 

The emerging availability of remote alcohol monitoring technology reduces the need to rely solely on human supervision to keep children safe when one parent has AUD. New technology exists in portable, handheld devices with facial recognition capability that detects alcohol use and measures its level or even presence in the body. The facial recognition feature prevents anyone other than the subject from contributing a breath sample to be assured that the parent of concern is the one completing the testing. The use of these remote alcohol testing devices, such as those produced and available through Soberlink is increasingly being adopted by Family Court Judges as a more practical, cost-efficient solution to a long-term issue which allows a parent with an alcohol issue to have a much more significant relationship with the children. 

Using Alcohol Monitoring Defensively

Some parties employ desperate tactics and false allegations to prevail over other parties in child custody cases. Attorneys who represent clients unfairly accused of chronic alcohol misuse can ask their clients to utilize remote alcohol monitors to provide proof of sobriety and demonstrate the falsity of the alcohol-related charges. The devices collect and store alcohol testing data and report the results using easy-to-read advanced reporting software. The reports color-code and highlight any elevated readings and display them in a calendar format for simplified reading/review by the court.

How to Know When Alcohol Use Is at a Concerning Level:

"Knowing if the person is physically dependent on alcohol and needs detox is more complicated than it may first appear and is often determined by the fact that a person’s body has become more used to a certain amount of alcohol to sustain its equilibrium," say many professionals. It's almost like a diabetic needs the right amount of insulin. You take it away suddenly and you throw the body into shock. While detox is used to allow a person a “fresh start” to stabilize them, and minimize withdrawal symptoms, it is not actually a method of treating the underlying issues. If there are concerns about excessive alcohol use, the best way to determine or evaluate the level of concern is generally through a medical examination or evaluation. However, the quality of the evaluation matters and may vary widely.  

DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder Criteria

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), updated its criteria to identify the stages of Alcohol Use Disorder.

  • AUD is indicated when any two of the following symptoms are present. The severity of the AUD is determined as follows:        
    • Mild: The presence of 2 to 3 symptoms
    • Moderate: The presence of 4 to 5 symptoms
    • Severe: The presence of 6 or more symptoms


In the past year, has the affected person experienced:

  • Times when they ended up drinking more, or longer than intended?
  • More than once desired to reduce or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or getting sick from drinking or getting over other after-effects from the drinking?
  • Wanted a drink so badly they couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of their home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with their family or friends?
  • Decided to give up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to them, or gave them pleasure, in order to pursue drinking?
  • One multiple occasion, gotten into situations while, or after, drinking that increased their chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making them feel depressed or anxious or adding to other health problems? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Needed to drink much more than they once did to get the desired effect? Or found that the usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, they had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure. Or sensed things that were not there? 1

If the other party is having some of these symptoms, it is important to share the information with your lawyer so that appropriate steps can be taken to protect your children from the harmful effects of the other party’s struggles. 

How AUD Can Affect Child Custody Cases

AUD can have a significant impact on child custody cases. If a parent is struggling with AUD, they may be less able to provide a safe and stable home for their children. They may also be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence or leaving their children unsupervised.

As a result, parents with AUD may be at risk of losing custody of their children. If you are a parent with AUD, it is important to be aware of the potential impact of your condition on your child custody case. You should also seek help for your AUD so that you can be the best parent you can be for your children.


AUD can have a significant impact on child custody cases. If you are a parent with AUD, it is important to be aware of the potential impact of your condition on your child custody case. You should also seek help for your AUD so that you can be the best parent you can be for your children.

If you are dealing with a parent who has an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and is not getting the help he or she needs, you need knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel. Call Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 today to schedule your consultation. Put our compassion and expertise to work for you!

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